Meadows Blog

Ski Patrol Investigates Avalanche

This account and pictures of the avalanche investigation is provided by Tighe Stoyanoff and Paul Klein of our ski patrol. You can click on the pictures to make them larger.

 Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort Heather Avalanche March 2011
A pronounced fracture line runs across the top of Super Bowl - unlike the January 2010 major incident which started in Wy' East (which is still loaded with snow and presumably has the same persistent weak layering which contributed to the March 2011 Super Bowl slide).

Thursday's Investigation

 On the morning of March 10th 2011, the Mt. Hood Meadows Professional Patrol conducted Avalanche Hazard Reduction routes and an Artillery mission that included the Super Bowl portion of the permit area. Weather conditions on the morning of the 10th did not allow for any visibility into the upper portions of the Heather or Clark drainages. The Heather Ridge route traveling through the Heather Canyon foothills on the tail end of their route found the deposition from a large avalanche at the confluence of the Clark and Heather Drainages. At that time visibility up drainage did not allow for confirmation of where this large event had initiated from. Debris extended past the bottom terminal of the Heather Chairlift, making travel difficult on skis or foot. The canyon remained closed for the day.

 Avalanche debris and rubble beyond the Heather Chair entranceHeather chairlift this way Looking downhill at the toe of the avalanche Looking uphill at the toe of the avalanche The "toe" or end of the avalanche  Where Heather lift line used to be

Friday's Investigation

 As the sun came up on Friday the 11th, the weather forecast held true and visibility allowed for further Avalanche Hazard Reduction and investigation into the previous days events. Patrol personnel traveled to the fracture line of the avalanche at the 9000 foot level, very close to the top of our permit area. It was determined that the avalanche was triggered during our Artillery mission on the morning of the 10th just after 6:00 am. The slide ran on an old buried and persistent weak layer. Average height of the fracture was 5-6 feet with areas in excess of 12 feet. The hard slab traveled an estimated 3900 feet of vertical and 2.5 miles as the crow flies. Wy’east, the slope directly up hill of Super Bowl did not slide. It is presumed that Wy’east has the same persistent weak layer and similar loading that contributed to the slide at the 9000’ level in Super Bowl. The canyon remained closed for the day.

Super Bowl where the avalanche initiatedThe Crown of the avalanche in SuperbowlWeak layer visible at the fracture pointView from below Hinderlands The lower run out of the avalanche pathThe avy path beneath Accordian BowlA look across the avalanche path from Hinterlands towards Accordian BowlHemlock deposited  and encased in avay debris  25 foot high avalanche wall near bottom of Jack's Woods 

Saturday Open for "Touring"

Saturday the weather, snow pack, and some grooming near the bottom of the chair allowed Heather Canyon to open for a short time from 9:00 am to 11:00 am. Absolute Magnitude was the only gate open which allowed Patrol to better inform guests of the debris hazards and difficulty of access to the chair. Weather closed in again just before 11:00 am, causing increased concern for the Wy’east Face; resulting in the Canyon’s closure. Wy’east is outside of the Meadows permit area and receives no active Avalanche Hazard Reduction. Historically slides originating from Wy’east face have deposited debris in the lower portions of the Clark Creek drainage. Pictures speak more than these words in describing the magnitude of this slide and the challenges we face with this terrain.

Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort Heather Avalanche March 2011

Please obey all posted signs and closures. Heather will continue to be evaluated, at the time of this posting it is closed.

The mountain is the owner, we are but guests…………..

35 Comments

  1. Michael

    March 13, 2011

    So happy that no one got hurt! Amazing to look at now though...

    Meadows: Well said!

  2. mary taylor

    March 13, 2011

    Yep - Heather has always been the ruler of the mtn - years ago (when Texas chair was operating) we'd go to Heather Canyon - the avalanche danger was still there - always know that the mtn will win!

    Meadows: It's all about respect. thanks!

  3. justin

    March 13, 2011

    damn...that's large

    Meadows: The nature of the terrain - a funnel into a narrower area of convergence - serves as an effective massive snow collector.

  4. Jesse Graunitz

    March 13, 2011

    Avalanche is a serious situation, especially at the magnitude we have experienced, both this week and last season. The Wy'east Face seems to continuously present a looming concern for safety in the lower canyons. Is there any way to acquire a special permit to allow artillery usage in this area?

    Furthermore, I would like to extend a word of thanks from all the powder hounds to the MHM Professional Patrol for always working so hard. We sincerely appreciate your efforts in safeguarding our playground.

    Meadows: Thank you for the kind words. Wy'east is outside our permit area and the permission to use remote avalanche hazard reduction operations would have to come from a level beyond our Mt. Hood National forest administration. You are correct that episodes such as this demonstrate the gravity of the situation, literally.

  5. Brent

    March 13, 2011

    Thank you for the info and updates. This is important for all who access this area to ski/ride, a strong reminder that safety needs to be foremost in everyone's mind.

    Meadows: Thank you for understanding and respecting the rope lines.

  6. Ben Odenborg

    March 13, 2011

    When do you predict heather will open again?

    Meadows: We don't have a set time frame as it all depends on the conditions. We're getting more snow this week which will add to the variability.

  7. Adam

    March 14, 2011

    Thx for the writeup and photos!!

    It sounds like there is still a slide to come with the remaining snow hanging above the crown.

    Thanks for the continued vigilance and work!

    Meadows: Wy'east always is a factor that needs to be considered when evaluating Heather for operations. Thanks for the kind words.

  8. Nate

    March 14, 2011

    Fascinating post and great pics. Thanks for sharing!

    Meadows: You're welcome. It's a great opportunity for all of us to gain knowledge, and quite frankly, be in awe of the power of nature.

  9. Steve

    March 14, 2011

    It would be interesting to see a plot of the extent on a map.

    Meadows: Good point. We'll see if we can illustrate it. Meanwhile, check out the January 2010 archive blog which give a good overview of the terrain.

  10. Wayne

    March 14, 2011

    Meadows: thank you for posting this in detail. This clarifies the magnitude of the problem of managing the avalanche terrain in this area, especially to the touring community who continually strive for access adjacent and through this terrain. The more details provided, the more understanding.

    Meadows: You're welcome. This is a good learning experience for all of us.

  11. Tony

    March 14, 2011

    Did this go on the MLK rain crust? Or something from early Feb?

    Meadows: The initial slab was one cohesive unit which failed from under a more recent melt-freeze crust probably from the middle of February. As the slab moved down through Super Bowl it scoured down revealing the MLK rain crust.

  12. Tom Wooding

    March 14, 2011

    Thanks for the informative post. It is a great to be able to learn from what has happened.

    I am a back country skier and use heather canyon for access when permitted. I would like to acknowledge the huge improvement this year over past with keeping interactions with bc skiers positive. Wyatt who works on the patrol among others {I apologize for not remembering all the names} have been very professional and friendly. I especially appreciate when patrollers take the time to share information. This facilitates trust and cooperation.

    Forecast for the next couple of days is high winds, high precip, southwest flow. Precisely the type of set up for loading the Wyeast face. A lot of guest comments are geared toward wishing control work could be done higher on the mountain. Since this is not a reality, it seems like closing Heather is the most likely scenario.

    When the storm subsides and Heather opens back up, do you think wearing beacons while skiing in Heather is a good idea?

    In light of the enormous liability that the Wyeast face poses to individual skiers and the entire Meadows operation, has Meadows considered shrinking their permit area and gating Heather Canyon as lift served backcountry access terrain?

    Meadows: There has been good progress made in communicating with and exchanging information with backcountry enthusiasts, with which we have much in common. Regarding beacons, we encourage everyone accessing terrain through our gates to have a buddy, beacon, probe and shovel. Thank you for the post.




  13. Humaira Falkenberg

    March 14, 2011

    Thank your posting the photos. The images tell a profound story. Kudos to your staff for making our playground safer.

    Meadows: Thank you - and you are welcome!

  14. skip

    March 15, 2011

    Thanks for all of the picts and info. regarding the following statement:
    "Wy'east is outside our permit area and the permission to use remote avalanche hazard reduction operations would have to come from a level beyond our Mt. Hood National forest administration."
    What exactly does it take to reach these 'higher ups?' Is it even possible for Meadows to do? And if so,any future plans on attempting to obtain these permits? To me it seems that it should be a very high priority. It is obvious that the type of climax slides that are capable of flushing the canyon with such intensity are a major hazard.
    I appreciate all of the work that the Patrol and Meadows does to ensure the safety of all skiers and snowboarders. I am not whining! Just asking a few questions and attempting to ascertain what direction Meadows will go with this situation. Thanks again!

    Meadows: Good questions on the blog which is leading to some great discussion and information exchange. There are sensitivities and processes in the area of remote avalanche hazard reduction operations (howitzer) that we need to respect. There are many agencies involved in the oversight and regulation of military weapons for these kinds of operations in addition to our permit administrator, and we are working in partnership with these agencies to inform all parties of this situation. So the first step is to make everyone aware - and that's where we're at now.

  15. Heiko

    March 15, 2011

    Good work M.H. Pro Patrol. My interactions with your staff has always been positive. My spent howitzer casing that I bought at the Avy dog fundraiser, has become a little more endearing to me. Heather Canyon is a frequent starting point for my touring trips. I will be considering the upper mountain a little more.

    H

    Meadows: Be safe. Also remember that there are designated uphill climbing routes on each side of our permit area. Riding our lifts and then crossing the boundary to gain back country access is not permitted. Thank you for respecting our boundary policy.

  16. tomskier62

    March 15, 2011

    I have skied many weeks in Canada with the assist of a helicopter and professional guides. The guides are considered to be experts and some of the best in the world at predicting avalanches and yet still they are extremely cautious and never take a risk with their customers lives. Despite this caution people are occasionally lost in rogue avalanches when they are heli-skiing and the backcountry and snow mobile accidents in British Columbia and very significant each year. Nature is fickle and unpredictable. It is said that snow never slides in the trees. One time our group skied a deep powder run in subfreezing temperatures in the trees. On the next run over the same route we discovered a 4 foot fracture halfway down and the entire area slid a long ways. 6 inch trees were snapped off. The head guide shut down skiing for the day at that moment. Luckily nobody was involved.

    The recent slide is scary because of the many times people have ventured into Heather and Clark when it has been opened in spite of poor visibility higher up. It is good to know that the patrol initiated this slide but it still means that Heather and Clark are dangerous and maybe the decision matrix for opening it needs to be tightened. Glad nobody was hurt this time but if this had happened on a Sunday morning it would have been a disaster.

    Meadows: Thanks for the post. We are proud of our ski patrol team and their avalanche hazard reduction operations expertise. Every skier or rider should be aware of the potential dangers when entering Heather Canyon. Hopefully this dialogue and exchange will further educate and inform our mountain enthusiasts.

  17. Larry

    March 15, 2011

    Caution: buddy, beacon, probe and shovel do not prevent avalanche burials.

    Meadows: True. But what if you're not the one who's buried?

  18. David

    March 16, 2011

    I was one of the ones able to head into Heather Saturday morning during the window that it was open. First I would like to thank the ski patrollers for facilitating the access. The run down through all of that untracked deep powder was awesome. The hike and climb out were worth it. Second - wow, that is a lot of snow from the avalanche. Very impressive. Thanks for all the great work you do to make the skiing challenging, safe, and fun.

    Meadows: Nature is awesome! It was great to have the opportunity to witness it close up. Thanks for your comments.

  19. Alex

    March 17, 2011

    Thank you for working hard to keep us safe. We appreciate what you do so we can have a good time.
    Question: will the recent and upcoming snow affect the conditions in Heather Canyon, and what are the probability that it will be open by the weekend?

    Meadows: New snow and changing weather does affect conditions in the Canyon. We don't have a probability at this time - we'll update the status on our conditions page. Thanks!

  20. Bill

    March 17, 2011

    The pictures show a clear weak layer in the snowpack. Do you regularly dig pits, and did you realize this weak layer existed? If I had dug a pit in the backcountry, is it likely I would have seen the weak layer? Or, do you rely primarily on your artillery?

    Meadows: Pit digging is S.O.P. as part of out regular evaluation process within our permit area.

  21. Juan

    March 17, 2011

    So does that mean it might be open Friday? Spring pass finally goes on sale and Heather gets shut down. I'm all for safety first and don't argue that, just impatient to get into Heather Canyon soon. Is it not safe still or is it that there is avalanche debris in the run out that has to be cleared?
    Thanks,
    J

    Meadows: Thanks Juan. We share both your for getting into the Canyon safely. It's all about avalanche hazard conditions at this point.

  22. Dave

    March 18, 2011

    It's frustrating waiting for that big slab of tenuously anchored snow to cut loose or stabilize. I don't envy your job of making the decision to open that canyon. Good work, and we all appreciate the transparency.

    I've been wondering: Does the Heather closure extends to Private Reserve? 'Been wanting to explore the terrain below those new gates, even hiked it a couple of days last fall -- those are some serious cliffs!

    Thanks, Dave

    Meadows: Thanks Dave. We've had portions of Private Reserve open since the avalanche, although some of S&R cliffs remained closed. We appreciate our guests respecting the access gates into this terrain, and bringing a buddy, probe, beacon and shovel.

  23. pj-pdx

    March 18, 2011

    Can we get Jack's Woods so the monkey's can swing from the trees back to lifts and repeat! Itching with all this beautiful new snow. Laps on Yoda will have to do. Thanks Meadows.

    Meadows: Jack's is back. Enjoy - but as always be aware. Buddy, probe, shovel, beacon all advised.

  24. michael

    March 21, 2011

    Will Heather ever open again this season? Is the closure now about the debri in the run out to the lift or the risk of Wyeast sliding?

    Meadows: We continue to evaluate conditions - Wy'east continues to weight heavily on our decision to open Heather.

  25. Eric

    March 21, 2011

    Heather isn't worth the risk of getting taken out by that slab hanging on the Wy'east face. Plenty of good frontside terrain as well as PR, and S&R Cliffs. Meadow's don't cave to pressure from people. Most of the people clamoring to get in aren't prepared for slide activity let alone the kind we have seen in the past 2 seasons.

    Meadows: Thanks Eric.

  26. Kevin Carr

    March 22, 2011

    I wouldn't be surprised if Heather stays closed for some time. Even though the March 10 avalanche was likely caused by artillery, it could have released naturally while Heather was open. This would have been a catastrophe, burying and likely killing dozens of skiers and boaders. This was, in fact, a very close call. With slopes above Superbowl still loaded it remains hazardous. It may be difficult to objectively assess the danger. Caution will prevail in this case.

    Meadows: We opened Heather from 1/2 Moon down. It's limited and based on conditions which we continual evaluate. Enjoy - but proceed but as always, be aware.

  27. Michael

    March 22, 2011

    It would appear to me that until we have a release in Wyeast we may never get to ski Heather at all this season....
    Here's to hoping it's sooner than later.

    Meadows: Heather opened today from 1/2 Moon on down.

  28. Andre

    March 23, 2011

    Can we get a status update?

    Meadows: Heather opened from 1/2 Moon Bowl down Thursday morning. It's limited and access is subject to change depending on conditions which are continually evaluated.

  29. correction

    March 24, 2011

    1/2 Moon down...

    Not Moon.

    Thanks

    Meadows: Thanks!

  30. skip

    March 26, 2011

    We all might as well face the reality that Heather is closed..And,the more snow we get and the better the skiing gets, the more apt it is to remain closed. Meadows can not control Wy'east..It is out of their control boundaries..Until it naturally releases or magically stabilizes itself it is a severe hazard. I do not understand the reasoning behind opening it the other day..It is still unsafe and potentially a huge mouse trap..Maybe some day Meadows will be able to obtain some kind of permission to control that face. Until then, I totally understand the super conservative and safe approach to the Canyon. I think their hands are tied and I totally understand...but it still sucks..I have never wanted my last turn to be my last turn...

    Meadows: Thanks Skip. We'll continuously evaluate Heather and open it when appropriate.

  31. david

    March 27, 2011

    Thanks so much for the 1/2 moon bowl opening on Thur! I was there for the 1st group of 8 or so. Incredible backcountry-like experience. Then two shots under the Heather lift: quality snow! and an Elk Bowl adventure. Patrol and lift ops and lodge personnel were top notch throughout our 2 day visit.

    Meadows: We're so glad you had a great experience. We'll pass along the kudos - we are very proud of our mountain crew!

  32. Jon

    March 31, 2011

    How about the latest two avalanches in the canyon when do we get to here about those

    Meadows: Today was the first day we were able to get into the canyon to investigate. We'll update the blog with pictures and a description soon.

  33. Andrew

    March 31, 2011

    How about the most two resent avalanches in clark drainage. The second hit the bottom of accordian and the third that just happend.

    Meadows: We'll be posting an update on the avalanche which occurred Wednesday shortly.

  34. Nancy

    April 2, 2011

    Really appreciate the photos! Idea: mount a video or web cam on your artillery platforms so you can capture the big event when it happens

    Meadows: This event occurred sometime during the day Wednesday, in the middle of the storm. Visibility was so limited that video would not have been able to capture the event. It occurred naturally - not during our avalanche hazard reduction operations - in an area that was closed due to the high avalanche danger.

  35. Fraig

    April 3, 2011

    I read about another very large slide that occurred in Clark Canyon on Wed/Thurs on the NWAC website. No info i can find on your site about that one..?

    Meadows: We posted information on our blog Friday - and updated it over the weekend. http://www.skihood.com/Community-and-News/Meadows-Blog

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